Eden is westerly, Paradise is not

Waking up on the beach, surrounded by nudists does not necessarily mean you’re in paradise, or anywhere near it.
Costa-Gavras’ new film, Eden à l’Ouest is best described in the director’s own words. “To leave is to die a little,” he said, “but to immigrate is to die a little so that you can be reborn somewhere else.”
Gavras, who co-wrote and directed the film, intended it as a homage to Homer’s Odyssey. Along with co-writer Jean-Claude Grumberg, the legendary French director gives us the story of Elias (an excellent Riccardo Scamarcio), a citizen of some unknown place who, like Ulysses, undertakes a journey to rebuild his life and begin anew.
The film begins with a shot of a boat full of illegal immigrants sailing through the vast Mediterranean Sea. This scene is symbolic of the whole tone of the movie. Costa-Gavras uses the imagery of water to evoke a sense of freedom, but also a sense of loss. While Elias believes he is on his way to a better place, in this case France, he is ultimately lost once he arrives on shore. Ironically, the first place Elias finds himself is a French tourist resort named the Eden Paradise Club. His stay there is hellish, because he is constantly afraid that he will be arrested. But he finds refuge in the arms of a charming German tourist (Juliane Köhler). Eventually Elias leaves Eden and heads West &- to Paris &- where he plans to work as a sidekick to a magician (a delightful Ulrich Tukur). His journey to the French capital is filled with bittersweet hope and constant struggle as he is robbed, chased by cops, and forced to sleep on the street. The closer he gets to his destination, the more he is disappointed.
One of the most effective moments in the movie is when Elias sits down at a restaurant and eats the leftovers on the table, while the waiter stands in front of him so that he is not seen. “Thank you, sir, I have finished,” says Elias, as he stands up and leaves a spotless plate behind.
The film feels authentic, often it seems more like a documentary than fiction.
Scamarcio portrays Elias with just enough humanity and charm to make anyone feel for him.
Eden à l’Ouest is a tribute to immigrants, and a criticism of racism and European immigration laws. Ultimately, it is the story of a foreigner who is anything by foreign.

Eden à l’Ouest screens at Cinema Impérial on Thursday Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. and Friday Nov. 13 at 4:30 p.m.

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